Meeting Tom Peters And Daniel Pink: "Much Talk, Little Change"

Written by in Bucket list
- 5 min read

Earlier this week we attended the Thinkers50 award gala in London. Despite not winning our award, we still had a blast. Specifically, we had some very entertaining discussions with leading management thinkers.

Highlights included long talks with Bucket List heroes Daniel Pink and Tom Peters. We didn’t just talk about their work, we also asked them for advice. When we asked what to do to make work more fun, they gave answers that might surprise you.

Much talk, little change

Both Daniel and Tom are considered gurus. Tom received a Thinkers50 Lifetime Achievement Award, confirming how influential he has been since the release of In Search of Excellence in 1982 (of which millions of copies have been sold over the years).

Daniel has been highly influential since the release of his #1 NY Times bestseller Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (and the accompanying TED talks).

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An obvious, and burning, question we wanted to ask was: “How the hell is it possible that, although you have been talking about this for years (even decades), there has been so little change?”After a long silence (remarkable for Tom Peters) they both agreed: the lack of action is a serious challenge. There has been too much talk and too little change.

Another focus

Luckily the gurus also offered some answers. To make significant change, they both agreed ‘management thinkers‘ need to change focus and interest. The traditional focus on big enterprises, their leadership teams and long term change programs simply haven’t made a big difference.

Even worse, the traditional approach has clearly failed for too many years. So, where to focus instead? What actually can we do to have an impact on the way work is organized? Each offered a different perspective.

Tom doesn't want to focus on big enterprises anymore. "Who cares what the big enterprises are doing? They are boring! Just study, visit and write about small and medium-sized businesses. The really interesting stuff is happening there."

Daniel, on the other hand, suggested we stop focusing solely on leadership teams and long-term programs. To increase impact, we should focus on people doing the real work, and encourage them to experiment. "People should start thinking: can I do one small experiment that makes a small difference? And then they should ensure this experiment is quick, actionable and do-able."

Do it yourself

We couldn’t agree more. Indeed, this is what our blog and consultancy work is all about. It’s about collecting and sharing inspiration from all kinds of pioneering organizations around the world: some big, most small, some medium-sized; and from all kinds of industries and cultures.

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But that's definitely not all. In our client engagements, we consciously focus on coaching teams in the design and execution of (small) experiments to improve their work environment. It’s about using tools and practices that make work more fun. It’s about what you can do yourself, not what your manager might or might not do for you.

Strengthened now by their advice, we have decided to focus on practical changes in this blog post, too. So, we will start, now, by sharing three experiments that are quick, actionable and effective. Let experimenting begin!

1. Purpose

Do you want to know how purpose affects your working life? In one of our upcoming blogs posts we tell how Daniel Pink differentiates between two types of purpose: (1) “Making a difference” and (2) “Making a contribution”.

The former is the kind of purpose we most often talk about. It includes the big ones, like fixing climate change, reducing poverty, or (in our case) making work more fun. The latter is the sense of making progress; knowing that your actions add value and contribute to progress.

To figure out if you make a contribution or not, start by evaluating your contribution on a day-to-day basis. Then you will know that you’re really making a difference.

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Start by asking yourself: “If I didn’t show up at work today, would anybody be bothered?” Do this exercise every working day for at least a week. If the answer is too often negative, than you obviously need to make a drastic change.

2. Supportive leadership

Too many leaders focus on how things need to be done. If you wish to become a supportive leader, make an effort to ask why things need to be done.

Daniel Pink suggests you start by setting yourself a simple target: simply change from how questions by why questions. Think of questions like “Why does this matter?”, or “Why do you do this?” Try this twice a day for a week, and then reflect on how it went—for you and your staff.

3. Freedom 

Do you want more freedom in how you work? Then start an experiment on result-based work that creates more freedom for you. But before you start, and to be sure not to scare your boss, brief him or her on what you plan to do—and to be clear it is an experiment only, for an initial period of one month.

Invite him/her to simply evaluate you on results during this period—not on how much time you spend in the office. Keep good measurements of the experiment—including, for example, your productivity and outcomes. If these are positive, you have built a good argument for a more “permanent experiment”.

These are just some of the ideas we picked up in our talks with Daniel Pink and Tom Peters. In future blogs, we will share more of the insights from these two gurus.

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Replies (3)

Marek Konieczniak

Marek Konieczniak

You are the winners, guys. Formal trophies are insignificant and sometimes boost up the ego too much :-). The fact that you were nominated after such a short time of spreading the good vibes of better workplaces is phenomenal. It shows how important is what you're doing and how much longing there is for a meaningful way of living and working. Congratulation. Keep at it!

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Brooks Tanner

Brooks Tanner

Great that you connected with both these thought-leaders. Peters was so far ahead of this time. Look forward to hearing more of their insights. Would love to see you similarly connect with others - e.g., Senge, Hamel, Collins, Wheatley, Bennis, Grant...

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Michelle Prescott

Michelle Prescott

Really interested to read and learn more about Tom and Daniel's thoughts on the challenges that get in the way of action when all of the evidence points to different and better ways of working!

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